Early years workforce development in England

This new report from UK think tank Education Policy Institute looks at early years education.

The early years profession in England has long suffered from a lack of recognition and status, alongside poor wages, working conditions and low qualification levels. Successive governments have sought to address this by improving workforce quality, support and development. This EPI report analyses the impact of four key government policies affecting early years education over the last 15 years. It considers the Graduate Leader Fund (2007-2011), the minimum GCSE grade requirement for workers (2014-2017), the expansion of the entitlement two-year-olds (2014-present), and the expansion of entitlement for three- and four-year-olds (2017-present). The study finds that the most successful policy in boosting workforce qualifications and professionalisation was the Graduate Leader Fund; under this policy those in the workforce with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent increased by 76 per cent, while those with a master’s or equivalent had increased by 13 per cent. However, between 2013 and 2018, after funding for the Graduate Leader Fund was no longer ring-fenced, early years worker qualifications failed to improve: rates for some qualifications fell, while others remained static. There is little evidence that more recent government policies from 2014 have improved workforce qualifications and development. The expansion of entitlements was accompanied by an increase in the total number of early years workers, yet qualification levels over this period failed to improve. The introduction of the minimum GCSE grade requirement for key staff created difficulties in attracting highly qualified workers to the sector, and hindered providers’ ability to develop early years professionals. Although attempts have been made to address workforce quality concerns in the early years, there is currently no clear long-term plan, leaving the sector in a place of uncertainty. The government needs to introduce incentives and a long-term strategy for the workforce for the next decade; it should revive its Early Years Workforce Strategy, which provided an overarching framework for policy development, early years programmes and funding.

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